How I Didn't Die My First Day Downhill Mountain Biking (and fell in love instead)

If you checked my vital signs, you'd think I just completed a 400m spring at the Olympics.

Sweaty hands... heart pounding so hard I swear it's going to pierce my skin... and breath so heavy I feel light-headed. 

I look out high above the trees to divert my gaze from the one thing that is supposed to keep me safe yet is high above my head. 

Changing views again, I look down to my feet dangling stories above the earth. 

I’m terrified. 

This is my first time on a ski lift and my first time on a downhill mountain bike. 

Afraid of falling to my death, I politely ask my companions if I can pull down the “oh sh*t” bar. I have no doubt that they smell the strong stench of my fear thick in the air. 

My boyfriend looks at me with a wild crazed laugh, giddy as the Joker. He high fives his best friend, who’s sitting on my other side, shaking the lift and jolting my fears.

 I don’t share their bliss, I’m too full of fear...

How did I let them talk me into this? I’ve only been mountain biking for a year!!! WTF am I doing???? 

Thoughts of doubt followed by mounds of sweat flow as we reach the platform. Standing on shaky feet, someone thrusts the full suspension rental bike into my trembling gloved hands. 

I slowly walk off the platform and look out to the steep trail below. 

There are rocks, wooden bridges and jumps. Lots of jumps. I don’t even know where to begin to attempt to ride this. I stand still utterly paralyzed by fear…

… fear of the downhill.

My boyfriend, CVO, snaps me back to reality. The reality that I may die today. 

CVO guides me through a few tips and assures me that this will be beyond RAD. I have my doubts but I also have a healthy appetite for a good challenge. 

Gathering up all my courage, I put on the full face helmet, goggles, and jump on my bike. 

Wow! I kind of look like a badass! I may not know what I’m doing but at least, now, I look like I do.

Okay, here I go!

The first part of the trail is pure rocks. 

I’m stiff and awkward and have NO confidence but I keep riding, clinging desperately to my bike in the hopes I don’t die.

I need to stop and catch my breath.

Being up past 9,000 feet is new for me and with my nerves in high gear, I struggle to breathe. 

CVO stops and gives me a high five! “That was rad, Babe! You’re killing it! Keep it up!!!” 

I am? I wonder to myself then smile a bit as I hop back on my bike.

Oh, shit. The next part of the trail is different. 

What are these weird high berms? I’ve NEVER ridden a berm and don’t understand them. At all.

Well, here we go. There’s no way around them.

My only option is to trust the trail and follow my instinct to ride the berms high. I quickly pick up speed with each one and I begin to actually have fun. 

Woohoo!

But wait. What’s that? A wooden wall…

WTF do I DO???? 

As I brace for death, I hear CVO yell out “keep up your speed and take it high. Trust in yourself and the bike!” 

Following his directions, I fly sideways on the vertical wall! 

I’m overtaken with adrenaline and uncontrollable laughter!!! Pulling off the trail, I feel a strong sense of pride. CVO gives me another high-five and joins in my laughing fit.

Over the day, my confidence grows as I trust in my bike and in my skills. 

And after each run, the three of us exchange epic stories from the previous run. 

In fact, after a few laps I stop noticing the “oh sh*t” bar isn’t pulled down. 

Lemme tell you, though… downhilling is hard work! I had no idea what a full body workout it is. 

And as the runs add up, I feel myself getting more and more tired. My body is beaten but I don’t want to stop. This is so much fun! 

Then it happens…

... my first crash. 

Going fast on a high rimmed trail, I catch my pedal on the rim and crash hard. 

But I get up and keep going.

The second crash comes later in the day on our final run. 

By now, I’m keeping up with the guys who are old pros. They’re impressed, as am I!

Flowing down the second to last run of the day I hit a patch of sand that sends my back tire into a wild frenzy. I try to correct it but the bike’s too heavy and I lose that battle. 

My left hand hits a tree and sends me over the handlebars into the air. My flight is abruptly stopped when my right shoulder hits a tree on the opposite side of the trail... 

And I’m instantly thrown backward onto the ground. 

As I sit, dazed on the side of the trail, I realize I need to get my bike out of the way. Standing up, I’m grateful to be totally fine. 

My left hand hurts a bit but my shoulder is saved by the body armor I’m wearing. Grabbing my bearings and my bike, I jump back on the trail. 

I’m full of stoke for surviving the crash, mostly unharmed. 

CVO and his buddy are waiting for me, wondering what happened. I pull off my go pro and show them... “Look! I totally ate sh*t! It was EPIC!”

After handing out the last round of high-fives we hit the trail again. 

I’m tired but I take in the last bit of the day. I learned so much and pushed through my fears. 

I’m so proud of myself and I am now totally, utterly in LOVE with downhill biking. 

Even though this love would eventually last longer than my relationship with CVO…

… he was right that day high in the mountains of Colorado -- downhilling is beyond RAD.

by Casey Sheppard

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